Employers want to send close contacts back to work as jobless rate drops

Short-staffed businesses want the government to keep retail, hospitality and tourism staff working even when in close contact with coronavirus cases after the country’s unemployment rate is fell to its lowest level in 13 years.

The unemployment rate fell 0.5 percentage points to 4.2% in December according to data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, as 65,000 people re-entered the labor market ahead of the Christmas season.

Labor shortages have disrupted food supplies to retail outlets while many stores have isolated staff.Credit:Eamon Gallagher

The Australian Retailers Association, Restaurant & Catering Australia and the Tourism and Transport Forum have now jointly started lobbying the government to relax coronavirus rules to ensure workers can stay on the front line, with an exemption existing rules requiring close contacts to self-isolate to help alleviate labor shortages.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Thursday that labor and economic strength were a priority for the government, but there was unlikely to be a change in those isolation requirements.

“It’s about finding the right balance between getting people back to work and not putting too much stress on the hospital system,” Mr Morrison said. “We believe we have that right balance. The definition of close contact we have for essential workers does the job of easing the pressure and at the same time helps us stay within our ability to continue to support our hospital system.

The workforce survey was undertaken in early December prior to the last Omicron outbreak. With workers increasingly forced into isolation after being identified as close contacts of people infected with COVID-19, employers have expressed concerns about keeping stores open and supplies on shelves. Full-time jobs increased by 41,500 and part-time jobs by 23,300.

Along with a longstanding request from the federal government to provide rapid antigen testing free of charge, the three industry groups are also calling for their sectors to be prioritized for skilled migration and to receive new targeted cash grants and more tax relief. rent.

The labor market is now at its tightest pace since 2008 and nearing lows not seen since the 1970s. The underemployment rate also improved, dropping 0.8 percentage points in the month. to 6.6%, while the participation rate remained stable. 18 million overtime hours were worked during the month. NSW added 32,000 workers to its ranks, while a further 25,000 people found work in Victoria.

Australian Retailers Association chief executive Paul Zahra said nearly three-quarters of members surveyed have employees self-isolating, while a significant proportion are limiting trading hours and some businesses have had to close in due to a lack of staff.

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